The Human touch

2012-05-26 08:58

Tell me about the not-so-nice hero in Apocalypse Now Now.

Baxter Zevcenko is your average 16-year-old?– if by average you mean kingpin of a school yard porn syndicate and possible serial killer who suffers from weird historical nightmares.

That’s average?
It may very well be what counts as average these days.

How did Baxter find himself starring in a book that landed this rather impressive deal?
I did a creative writing master’s at UCT and this is a bit of a story. I’d written about 30 000 words of a different novel and I had it on my laptop and had backed it up.

Someone broke into my house and stole all my computer equipment. (Laughs)

Was that a nervous laugh or a happy one?
Both. I kinda was at this position: either I’m gonna quit the master’s – it had been six months – or I’m gonna start at the beginning again and so I decided to start again, but do it the way I wanted to and get the best supervisor I could.

The perfect person was Lauren Beukes.

When she did (her book) Moxyland, she ran a competition for short speculative fiction. She chose my story Land of the Blind and it was printed in the UK version of Zoo City (Beukes’ latest novel).

So I took a chance and asked, and she agreed to mentor me.

So Baxter’s a dark king of the playground. Were you that boy?
(Laughs again, less nervously.) No, no, he’s my dark alter ego. I was part of the outsider art crowd.

I went to Rondebosch Boys’ High, which was very sports orientated.

So tell me about your alter ego?
I created Baxter as a not-so-nice guy. But his girlfriend is kidnapped in a supernatural case and he has to choose between his business and personal interests.

He has two voices in his head. One says forget about her; the other says he cares about her.

So, what’s a supernatural kidnapping?
He finds this tooth in her room, which has a strange glow.

He starts to get the idea something weird is going on so he contacts Cape Town’s only supernatural bounty hunter, this guy who’s a mental casualty of the border war. It gets weirder and weirder as it goes on, and he travels into the supernatural underworld.

You visit this world yourself?
Every morning when I walk to work I pass the tabloid headlines – Tokoloshe Kidnapped my Grandmother; Snake Man of the Cape Flats. The premise is, what if these things were actually real.

You work in online magazine publishing. You hope not forever?
Of course being a full-time writer is one of the dreams.

So Lauren mentored you and you wrote a book. How did you find a publisher?
I got an agent. Lauren helped me a lot there too. She had met him.

I sent him my manuscript and he really liked it. He took it to the London Book Fair and managed to sell it. People say you don’t need an agent.

I disagree.

So you’ll be riding the tip of the new wave of speculative local fiction?
I think everyone’s excited about the rise of the genre. It’s the stuff I’ve always read and enjoyed the most. It’s full of big ideas and is a relevant way of looking at your world – by creating a parallel one.

Will the next book be a sequel?
Possibly. I haven’t decided, but I know they’re quite keen.

I’m currently sketching ideas. I have a year to deliver. Working full time and writing at night, you have to be able to say no to the party.

It has a young adult (YA) fiction hero, but it’s not YA fiction?
I don’t think it’s classic YA. A lot of people will consider some parts of Apocalypse Now Now too risqué and subversive.

But I hope young adults do read it, cos I think it’s truer to their experience than a lot of YA fiction out there.

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